What Does It Take to Play the Piano? Cognito-Motor Functions Underlying Motor Learning in Older Adults

Florian Worschech, Edoardo Passarotto, Hannah Losch, Takanori Oku, André Lee, Eckart Altenmüller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The acquisition of skills, such as learning to play a musical instrument, involves various phases that make specific demands on the learner. Knowledge of the cognitive and motor contributions during learning phases can be helpful in developing effective and targeted interventions for healthy aging. Eighty-six healthy older participants underwent an extensive cognitive, motoric, and musical test battery. Within one session, one piano-related and one music-independent movement sequence were both learned. We tested the associations between skill performance and cognito-motor abilities with Bayesian mixed models accounting for individual learning rates. Results showed that performance was positively associated with all cognito-motor abilities. Learning a piano-related task was characterized by relatively strong initial associations between performance and abilities. These associations then weakened considerably before increasing exponentially from the second trial onwards, approaching a plateau. Similar performance–ability relationships were detected in the course of learning a music-unrelated motor task. Positive performance–ability associations emphasize the potential of learning new skills to produce positive cognitive and motor transfer effects. Consistent high-performance tasks that demand maximum effort from the participants could be very effective. However, interventions should be sufficiently long so that the transfer potential can be fully exploited.

Original languageEnglish
Article number405
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • cognition
  • motor sequence learning
  • performance–ability relationship
  • playing music
  • processing speed
  • skill
  • transfer
  • working memory


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